How To Apply a Tung Oil Finish

Learn how to apply a tung oil finish to create a natural hand-rubbed non-toxic finish for your furniture. Follow these simple steps and your will have a beautiful piece of furniture in no time.

A tutorial on how to apply tung oil to raw wood. A bench finished in tung oil styled with a horse pillow blankets, aloe plant and cactus. Underneath the bench are children's red Hunter boots.

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Too Many Unfinished Projects

One of the problems I often find myself running into is having more dreams of things to do than time to do them. I often find myself thinking about all the old pieces of furniture I have around my house and the grand plans I originally had to restore them. Well, recently I decided I really need to stop dreaming about it and start doing.

I think the biggest hold up I have is not being confident in what I really want to do with the different pieces. Should I paint them, stain them, refinish them completely by sanding down to the raw wood? Also, I get stuck just not knowing exactly how to do whatever finish I finally decide on. Well, I decided that needs to change.

Tung oil is something I’ve wanted to try for awhile. Unsure of how it would end up looking and if I would like it, I decided to try it on a piece of furniture I’m not super attached to. This bench was trash picked and so it seemed like a pretty harmless piece to start on.

A trash picked wood bench with a dark stain on it sitting on a driveway overlooking a grassy country field.

As you can see it is really scratch up on top. I think someone must have used it to cut with an X-acto knife on. Although I wasn’t able to get all the very deep scratches out, it does look so much better now. Below I will share the steps I took to refinish this sad scratched bench.

The top of the bench covered in deep scratches.

What Is Tung Oil?

Tung oil is pressed from tung nuts that grow on trees native to China. It is a natural finish that soaks into your wood instead of sitting on the surface like many other finishes. Once dry, it enhances the natural wood without leaving an oily finish or shiny hard surface. The oil creates a surface that repels water and helps protect the wood. Tung oil is most often chosen for its aesthetic look rather than its durability though, as it can more easily damage than other finishes.

Is Tung Oil a Food Safe Wood Sealer?

Tung oil, in its pure form, is considered non-toxic once it has dried. This makes a great sealer for any surfaces that come in contact with food. Wood kitchen items such as butcher block countertops, wood cutting boards, wood utensils and bowls are all great pieces to use tung oil on. It protects wood from water, oil, and everyday wear while keeping the natural wood look.

Just beware, there are products labeled tong oil that have other additives in them. They are not 100% pure tung oil. Make sure you know which you are buying. There are variations of tong oil that are toxic and shouldn’t be used on anything that will come in contact with food.

*I have a wood high chair and I am planning to refinish with tung oil. So stay tuned if you’d like so see how that project turns out.

Why Use Tung Oil to Finish Furniture?

Personally, I chose to use tung oil because I love the look of the wood when it is finished. I’m not a fan of high gloss wood. I prefer a natural warm wood tone that doesn’t look too “done up” if that makes sense.

I originally found out about tung oil from one of my favorite instagram accounts @thewhitefarmhouseblog. She has refinished many of her antiques with tung oil. I just love the way her pieces look after she is done. It protects the natural wood look without a lot of added color or glossy finishes.

Another bonus is that tung oil is a more natural product than many finishes out there. Therefore, it is less harmful to the environment as well as our health.

A bench sitting on a driveway ready to be refinished in tung oil.

Supplies You Will Need:

three different grits of sandpaper 80 grit, 120 grit, 220 grit with a palm sander lying on the ground.

Prepare Your Wood Before Applying Tung Oil

Take time to prepare your wood before starting. Tung oil brings out the grain of your wood in a pleasing way, but it also highlights any blemishes or scratches that haven’t been properly sanded out.

Using a palm sander will make quick work of sanding large surfaces. Start with an 80 grit sand paper to really clean up the surface of the wood and remove any previous finishes. You might find that you need to go even rougher with a 60 grit paper if your wood has a lot of blemishes. Once throughly sanded with 80 grit, move onto 120 and then 220 for a nice smooth surface. You will need to sand tight corners by hand.

 A close up picture of a woman's hand holding a bit of sandpaper, sanding in the cracks of the bench.

After sanding be sure to throughly clean your furniture piece before applying the tung oil. Start by bushing off the dust with a broom. Or for a quick and efficient method, use a leaf blower to quickly blow away the dust. Then lightly dampen a cloth and wipe down your entire piece. If you are worried about raising the grain of the wood by using water on your damp cloth, you can use mineral oil instead. This cleans away the dust but is also a chemical and you will need to do this in a well ventilated area and be sure to wear gloves.

Wood bench completely sanded down to the raw wood. Gloves, tung oil an old sock and a microfiber rag on the bench. A leaf blower on the ground in from the other bench.

How to Apply Tung Oil

Once your piece is sanded and throughly cleaned you can proceed with applying tung oil. It can be applied using a lint free rag, old sock or an inexpensive paint brush. Just pour a little onto your rag and start rubbing in. You can even pour it directly onto your piece if you have large flat surface to cover. If using a brush, pour into a small disposable container and dip your brush into the oil and then brush on.

Close up photo of Hope's 100% pure tung oil.

It can be difficult for tung oil to penetrate deep into the wood. Because of this, the wood surface can be more easily scratched and expose the raw wood underneath. Thinning the oil with turpentine for the first coat can help the oil penetrate deeply into the wood. This should only be done for the first coat. Pure tung oil should be used for any following coats. Please note that using anything to thin your oil will cause it to become toxic and shouldn’t be used on any items that would touch food.

A contrasting picture showing a how tung oil finish and raw wood look.

Pour a small amount of oil onto your rag and start applying to the least accessible area of your piece first. Rub the oil into your wood following the grain of the wood. Make sure to add enough oil so all the surface is wet but not so much that you leave puddles of oil on the surface when you are finished that section.

How to apply tung oil finish. A close up picture of a tung oil on a bench with a aloe plant on the bench and a basket with a fuzzy blanket and children's hunter boots on the floor.

How Long to Wait Between Coats

After covering your entire piece of furniture with tung oil, allow it to sit in a well ventilated area for an hour. Then go back and wipe off any excess oil sitting on the surface of the wood. Allow the piece to cure for 24 hours before adding another coat of tung oil.

If you are trying to achieve a super smooth surface, you can use 0000 super fine steel wool or a really fine grit sand paper (320) to lightly sand the wood between each coat of oil. Be sure to wait at least 24 hours before sanding to let your oil dry otherwise the fine particles of wood will end up getting mixed with the oil finish. That will be much more difficult to remove.

When sanding with steel wood, use light steady pressure and sand with the grain of the wood.

How Many Coats Of Tung Oil Should I Use

Applying at least three coats of oil will ensure your piece is well protected. Also, sanding with fine steel wool between each step will help you to achieve a very smooth surface.

When you are satisfied with the coverage of your piece be sure to allow 24-48 hours to dry before bringing in your piece and using it. Some wood pieces may need up to a week to cure all the way.

A bench refinished in tung oil for a how to tutorial. Aloe plant, blanket and horse pillow on the bench. Hunter boots and blanket in a basket on the ground.

How Often to Reapply Tung Oil

For something like a piece of furniture, you might never need to reapply tung oil. If you do find your piece of furniture gets damaged, fixing the scratch is as easy as lightly sanding the damaged area and reapplying several coats of tung oil.

For something like a wood countertop, you may find you need to reapply tung oil every 6 months to keep your butcher block counters protected.

How to Remove Tung Oil

Once the oil has dried the only way to remove it is to thoroughly sand down to the raw wood again. Since the oil penetrates into the wood, you can not just sand the surface of the wood as you might do with another type of finish.

Lessons Learned

This bench was really scratched up and I really did try to sand down the top very well. These cuts were so deep though that I finally gave up. The tung oil really brought out the appearance of the scratches on top. So in hindsight, I should have probably painted the bench. However, it is a good lesson for future pieces I want to refinish for our home. Making sure that all the scratches are completely sanded out is important if I don’t want them to be visible after applying the tung oil.

A picture showing the top of the wood bench finished in tung oil. Showing how the oil brings out the scratch marks.

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you found this post helpful. Be sure to leave questions below.

Stay tuned for more refinishing projects to come.

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